In the last module we started to look at ways of dealing with thinking errors and looked at how our environment and the people we most mix with can have a big impact and influence on the way we think.
We also looked at the first step in dealing with our negative, irrational patterns of thinking – and that was a real awareness of when it happens – your patterns…
one of the challenges I put was to get feedback from someone close to you to ask them about your negative thinking habits – a brave thing to do.
Lets now carry on with.. …
STEP 2 Dispute or Challenge
Learning to challenge these negative thoughts and replace them with more fair and realistic ones:
As a progression to the ABC process – that was the Activating event – your Belief and then the C or Consequence of those thoughts and beliefs –
You can now add the next stage D which stands for Dispute – disputing those thoughts.
The reason we call these types of thoughts irrational is just that – they are irrational and in the main have no real foundation. When we say things like ‘why do I always mess up’ for example – it’s clear that you don’t ALWAYS mess up.
If you dispute or challenge these thoughts you will learn how futile they can be and by continually disputing this pattern of thinking, you’ll eventually stop having the thoughts – or at least when you do have them you will be in a better place not to let them negatively affect you.
Challenging negative thinking requires deliberate re-thinking about the situation or event that upset you.
Again, keeping some form of a diary of your thoughts and responses is useful here – particularly if you add how a situation – or more precisely, how your perception of the meaning of that situation – made you feel.
As before, you don’t need to write it down but it could be very useful to do so.
The next step is the most important:
Think about the situation and try to come up with a different explanation or a different meaning about it. We call this reframing.
Sometimes this is as simple as reminding yourself you don’t have enough information to know for certain what is happening! Take the case of the tennis player mindreading earlier – the player didn’t have enough information to make the assumption on what her parents and coach were talking about but jumped to a conclusion. We do this a lot when we imagine what someone might be thinking, or what he or she might say and do, and we get ourselves worked up without any real or tangible evidence. There are enough potential stressors in life without making up more.
Look at this process as if you were in court putting a case for the opposition! So you end up having a disagreement with yourself
You literally fight back against your negative thinking by giving yourself a chance to think fairly and realistically about what has actually happened.
You might also ask yourself
‘What would my friend say in this situation, if it happened to them?’ – and think of a friend who handles situations in a calm and considered way
Remember the words of the great Greek Philosopher EPICTETUS who famously said – ‘it’s not what happens to you – it’s how you react to it’.
Finally, check your mood after coming up with some different, more rational, ways of thinking. Most of the time, you’ll feel better about the situation
Testing the Reality of Negative Automatic Thoughts
Here are some questions that might help you come up with more fair and realistic thoughts:
- What evidence do you have for this thought? Would most people say that this evidence supports your negative thought? If not, what conclusion could you draw instead?
- What is a less extreme way of looking at this situation?
- How would somebody else think about this situation? How would someone else react? Maybe I need to ask around and find out.
- What would I tell somebody else if they were worried about this? (Bear in mind here that we are often much more realistic about other people than about ourselves.)
- Are you setting yourself an unrealistic or unobtainable standard? What would be more reasonable?
- Are you forgetting relevant facts?
- Are you over-focusing on irrelevant facts?
- Are you over-estimating how much control I have in this situation?
- What if the thing you dread happens? What would you do to deal with it?
- How will things be in 6 months/years’ time?
- Are you over-estimating how likely this event is to happen?
- Are you under-estimating how well you can deal with this problem/situation?
It is not enough to come up with a rational, fair, and realistic thought just once.
Habitual negative thinking repeats over and over – they’ve learned patterns that need to be unlearned – it is a habit that is hard to break without your constant attention over a period of weeks.
More balanced thinking will help you feel better, and it will take practice.
Unlike negative thinking, thinking positively doesn’t come naturally to most people, at least not at first.
It takes practice before getting the hang of more realistic thinking and then you start seeing a much brighter present and future.
STEP 3: Preparing for “trigger” situations.
So now you’re much more aware of your thinking patterns and you understand how you can dispute and challenge the irrational thoughts.
You’re probably very aware of those situations, events or people in your life that are a quite likely trigger your unhelpful thoughts.
Now, if you can be prepared for these trigger situations it will be easier to deal with them when they arrive.
As an exercise, think of an event, a situation or a person that is a potential stressor to you. Think of what it is about that situation or person that presses your ‘stress’ button
Deliberately start rehearsing your new fair and realistic thinking. You will have to tell yourself how to look at the situation in a different way – almost as though you were giving advice to a friend.
If the unhelpful thinking starts – respond!
Fight back! You may feel as though you are having an argument with yourself, but that is okay – every time you talk back to your unhelpful thinking, it gets weaker and your fair and realistic thinking gets stronger.
Another way of thinking about that situation or person is to tell yourself you won’t waste any of your precious time even thinking about them in the first place – you’ve got better things to focus your attention and efforts on! In this case, you won’t even have to dispute the thoughts because you don’t allow them to enter into your mind. That’s where you’ll want to get to when you’re thinking patterns become much more controlled.
Once you become more aware of your thoughts and your responses use the ABCD model to look at what Activated your Thought – What you Believed about the thoughts and yourself and then as a consequence of how that made you feel – and then start Challenging or Disputing those thoughts in a logical way, finding evidence to counteract the initial thoughts.
We have explored self-talk in some detail, and seen how much of general thinking patterns might be negative and irrational. With the tools outlined in this programme, you’ll be in a much better place to understand why you have the thoughts, and how to start disputing and challenging them.
And finally, start preparing for those trigger moments that normally push your buttons and come up with an alternative way of thinking about it. You’ll be much happier and healthier if you do.
Eventually, once you’ve learned the futility of even thinking in this way you won’t even allow the thoughts to start or certainly fester – using strategies like our ‘thought stopping’ which we described earlier.
Remember that challenging your negative thinking is not easy at first so it is important to keep trying to make the negative thinking weaker and realistic thinking stronger.
Your MYND activity
Practice and practice – become in charge of the thoughts you have and commit not to be a victim of negative and irrational thinking patterns and change your focus onto the nice things in life.